I’m glad you enjoyed my post and that it made you think about the film in a different light! I didn’t have a chance to comment on the coming out aspect of the argument because of the word limit, but I also find it fascinating. There is a lot going on in their fight regarding public vs. private spaces and identities. It’s stunning that the scene implies that if Michael were more open about his gay identity, Peter wouldn’t have gone to the baths.
If you have the chance, do watch all of An Early Frost because it’s rather fascinating. I have seen The Normal Heart and found it very moving, but the equation of sex and culpability bothered me, especially because we don’t really have a counter-discourse to it in the sense that when the play premiered, multiple competing interpretations of gay sexuality and AIDS were circulating, but as retrospective look, The Normal Heart really only endorses one message/one vision of this history.
In much contemporary TV, you’ll find gay characters in committed relationships, which relates back to the negotiations that happened in the 80s and 90s in response to the AIDS crisis. When I watched The Normal Heart, I was sure that the scene in which Ned and Felix get married was added as a nod to contemporary LGBT concerns. As it turns out, it is in the original play as well. That was the most surprising element of watching the film for me.
Melanie, Thanks for introducing me to a film I have never seen. I wonder if you have seen HBO’s The Normal Heart, and how you might consider “An Early Frost” in light of that film’s continued preoccupation with promiscuity, gay identity, and culpability. To what extent does monogamy—as an unquestioned ideal of relationships—continue to shape the narrative in media focused on gay sexuality?
Thanks for a great post to kick off the week. I really enjoyed the clip you selected to accompany your essay, as I had forgotten some of the details of this scene. The conclusion of the segment, where coming out of the closet and moving away from gay shame is represented as imperative to combatting AIDS, is fascinating. For all of the critiques we have of the “coming out” narrative, it’s easy to forget how critical this act was to fighting institutions that were slow to respond to the emergence of AIDS. It reminds me of Robyn Wiegman’s discussion of same-sex marriage, where she details the ways in which the AIDS crisis and the active marginalization of partners from hospital rooms, influenced present-day politics. Your argument that this text might be more complicated than it is often given credit for is intriguing and really has me thinking. Thanks!
Melanie — thanks so much for this really insightful post! It’s fascinating to trace how TV in the 1980s engaged with the AIDS crisis and, as you put so elegantly, worked simultaneously to toe a thin line, one between respecting gay “lifestyles” but also quite vehemently disarticulating gay identity from any notion of pleasurable sexuality and/or sexual practice.
Films like AN EARLY FROST strike me as prophetic in anticipating texts like Randy Shilts’ AND THE BAND PLAYED ON, particularly in their pathologizing, whether tacit or explicit, of any sexual activity that took place outside the bounds of a monogamous relationship. As that telling quotation you cite concludes, queer folks like Michael and Peter are supposed symbols of gay pride precisely because they represent a healthy, hermetically sealed alternative to the quick, bathhouse cavorting that was blamed for so much of HIV/AIDS’ spread. Also interesting then to think of this film in conjunction with the work of someone like Douglas Crimp or Tim Dean, both of whom defamiliarize typical notions of health in relation to HIV/AIDS and argue in different ways that promiscuity simultaneously saved a lot of gay men in the 80s through the transference of safer sex knowledge/practices.
Melanie - I really enjoyed your piece, especially the interview with the writers. I actually saw this film when it first aired on TV and remembered it years later. I had a chance to rewatch it recently and was struck by some of the points you make about how striking the film’s discussions of sex/sexuality are for its time.
I think its easy to dismiss the film as a “disease of the week” film or as another example of the trouble gayness causes for straight people, but on my recent viewing I was struck by the end. Unlike so many of the later mainstream AIDS film, like Philadelphia, Michael doesn’t die at the end. In fact, he doesn’t even stay with his biological family, but returns home with Peter.
Great work, Melanie. I find the comments from writers Lipman and Cowman particularly intriguing, especially considering that they went on to develop the US version of Queer As Folk for Showtime. I wonder if the multiple HIV related storylines in the QAF series were intended to offer a sort of amendment or corrective to An Early Frost’s moralist point of view.
Melanie, thanks for such an excellent entry. I was curious if you knew any of the show’s programming context: what aired around it and which advertisers supported it. A cursory Google revealed that although the film was a critical darling and blew away the other networks in ratings the night it aired, it still managed to lose money in ad revenue. I’d also be keen on hearing any (if any) audience anecdotes you may have encountered in your research.
Well put, Tony, about Justified. There’s something about Nick Searcy’s performance that really seems to capture Kentucky well, and the gentleman they had playing the KSP officer for the first few seasons really struck me as very authentically “Kentucky” as well. The show is filled with great performances, but some of them are to greater or lesser degrees “Kentucky” to my ear…(although, to be honest, my authentic experience with Eastern Kentucky culture is thin…) They did work in a reference to Chaney’s Dairy Barn at one point, but I think they indicated you could get it at the grocery store in Eastern Kentucky…which I don’t believe to be the case. :)
I do wish Kentucky could think about ways to more actively bring television and film taping to the Bluegrass State, especially with some increasing interest in setting shows here from highly regarded networks (i.e. FX and AMC). Do you know whether AMC will be taping Ashland in Kentucky? Or will we get Eucalyptus trees there as well?
Thanks Nedda and Drew for the helpful comments! The trend that seems to be threaded throughout your responses (and appears in some form in my notes as well) is the speculation over LEGO’s motivation in encouraging a culture of participation.
As Nedda rightly points out, with LEGO Ideas, there is a clear monetary incentive to tap into the crowd for R&D but also to ensure the presence of a hardcore fanbase to support the sale of a new set.
A similar principle appears in the movie. If the most obvious message is the power of the crowd (or what Drew calls the democratic collective) over tyrannical models of leadership, how do we reconcile this message with the overall satirizing of groupthink found in the opening 1/2 of the movie? Is the crowd a sleeping giant or the unwashed masses? What is clear is that the movie does not provide a suitable resolution.
Perhaps then it is better to revisit the premise of LEGO Ideas for some clarity. If we ignore the immediate financial benefits for the moment, the model of LEGO Ideas seems to best fit the ambiguity of the film’s message. The creativity of a few, supported by the masses, is ultimately decided by a group of elites before being executed by the professionals. In this enthymetic-like setup, the productive potential of the crowd is actually much smaller than it appears yet can easily be reframed as part of a fundamentally democratic process. As I hinted but didn’t have the time to develop in my post, inclusionary terms like “democracy” and “working together” can be normative, offering perhaps the most pleasant answer at the expense of critical nuance.